Catalyst Perspectives: weaving faith and science to build peace and justice in Mexico
In the face of terrible violence in her home country of Mexico, Sandra Márquez believes that no action is too small when it comes to working towards true peace, the shalom of God. In this Catalyst Perspectives blogpost, Sandra shares how her Logos and Cosmos Initiative project is equipping students to be agents of peace and justice. Sandra is a university professor and is currently finishing a doctorate in social psychology.
“Many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world,” said Uruguayan writer and journalist Eduardo Galeano. In the face of great challenges right now in my home country of Mexico, this phrase reminds me that no effort is too small, no effort should be ignored, all are necessary.
Since 2006, the Mexican government has embarked on a “war on drugs1” waged against the drug cartels. Since then, the violence that has taken root in my country has brought with it much suffering. Homicides, femicides, shootings, extortions, kidnappings and the “disappearances” of more than 130,0000 people has given rise to a climate of mistrust and social disintegration. These crimes are provoked by organized crime operations in complicity with different levels of government and are widely publicized in the media.
Each of these crimes has a profound impact. It is like a shockwave that expands, first affecting the direct victim, but also their family, their circle of friends, their place of study, their work and the community in which they live. So, for every crime there are many people living with the effects of this pain.
If we learn anything from Ecuadorian theologian René Padilla’s concept of “integral mission”, it is that every human need is a field of Christian mission. Therefore, the church is immersed in a society and cannot ignore society’s dynamics. Understanding that we cannot separate theology from context, we must walk with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other (as theologian Karl Barth once said).
Mexico is the 3rd most violent country in Latin America, according to the Global Peace Index Report 20222, which measures the level of peace and the absence of violence in 163 countries around the world.
If we start from the absence of peace, we must think about the meaning of the concept. Peace, at least in the West, is often linked to the Roman idea of pax romana that was conceived as the absence of war. So, for many people peace represents calm or even a sense of a quiet existence and passivity. In contrast, the Hebrew concept of shalom, which translates as a state of wellbeing, for the Hebrew people meant complete peace. In its deepest sense, it means integral wellbeing and can be used as a synonym for prosperity and security (Psalm 85:8-10).
This shalom means having healthy relationships with God, with other people and with the earth. This peace is a gift from God (Isaiah. 52:7). It would not be appropriate to reduce it to the idea of passivity but of action and proactive good works. It results from living in harmony and with right relationships.
In Psalm 85:10 we find a very interesting model, as it states, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed3“. This affirmation starts from the relational components such as mercy (love) and truth as part of human coexistence and in the end, establishes a relationship between justice (sometimes translated as righteousness) and peace as broader social conditions. If the concept of Hebrew shalom is understood then an intrinsic dimension to this peace is wellbeing that stems from justice.
If peace is linked to justice, we must also analyze this concept. From the biblical text we understand that God’s justice is different from human justice. From the human perspective, in ancient times the law of retaliation was the rule when it came to responding to a crime, to give to each one according to their deeds.
Jesus delves into this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
In this way Jesus asks his disciples to see the contrast between injustice and just actions and to have an attitude other than revenge. God’s justice is a justice that restores and transforms. It moves us from being sinners to being justified by grace and called to be righteous.
A project for peace and justice that is like a mustard seed
The LCI came into my life at just the right time. I am currently a university professor. I work in the area of planning and I am finishing a doctorate in social psychology. I am married to Erick Araiza, whom I met at Compa Mexico (my IFES national movement), and we have a 3-year-old daughter named Constanza.
Throughout my years at the university, I believed I had already integrated my academic knowledge with my Christian faith, especially when working on issues related to justice. My doctoral thesis concerns the effects and dynamics of the disappearance of people by organized crime, as well as the development of guidelines for accompanying the families of people who have disappeared in order to provide psychological and social support for them.
However, at the LCI I discovered that faith that is linked to reason must truly integrate psychological knowledge with theology. Through this initiative, I found a place to bring these reflections to student ministry and to encourage students to see their profession as a tool to work for justice and peace, regardless of their academic discipline. I want to help students and young academics to approach their context from their dual citizenship – that of the Kingdom of God and society linked to their professional training.
This is how my LCI project “Opening Paths of Justice and Peace” came about (see video above). It will bring together perspectives on justice and peace from both the social sciences and the Christian faith.
My project is based on the belief that students from Compa Mexico are fundamental to change the situation of violence in our country. They can detonate creative actions of hope and transformation.
From the inception of the project, the idea of collaborating with a local staff worker was raised, so I began to work with Maritza López Osorio. She has personal experience of losing someone who “disappeared.” In her student years, Maritza lost a good friend from her Bible study cell group who disappeared because of organized crime. Maritza has taken on the challenge of participating in this project. She has shared her gifts and her story, sharing her own reflections on the subject and inspiring students.
In 2022, my project has involved the following activities: 1) Two training workshops for students and workers, in which they created initiatives to work for peace and justice in their own contexts and campuses; 2) a day-long academic-theological forum on justice and peace; and 3) an investigation into Mexican university students’ attitudes about war, justice and peace, with the aim of developing a scientific publication.
Most recently, the theological forum was held on November 12 and was attended by more than 75 people including students, staff workers and also professionals and people interested in the subject from other organizations and churches in Mexico. Expert speakers analyzed the problem of violence from the perspective of the bible, social sciences and civic initiatives. All eight of the presentations are available to watch on my blog and on YouTube.
Encounters in the Global South and reflections on violence against women with Dr Elaine Storkey
The LCI has also allowed me to meet other Christian researchers who also seek to integrate their multiple academic and faith experiences in a serious and profound way. In September I participated in the LCI Latin America workshop held in Santiago, Chile. We were able to meet in person after 18 months of working together virtually. It was opportunity to broaden our reflections, be trained by workshops and to enjoy valuable time in community.
During the workshop, we were challenged by the lectures of sociologist, philosopher and theologian Dr Elaine Storkey. She shared with us her vision, and a biblical and social reading of violence against women, which occurs at all stages of life and in all cultures and societies. She led us to reflect on how violence against women manifests itself in crude and unjust ways in different places, pointing out that it is important to talk about this issue and to develop projects that can respond to this type of violence.
Sadly, in Latin America, violence against women is a very real issue, with a large number of femicides, among other crimes. I really identified with what she shared about how these problems are not usually a topic of analysis in faith communities. I thank God that she brings her experience and reflections on violence against women to different spaces.
As I said at the beginning, remembering Galeano’s words, no action is too small in the face of violence to show the world the shalom of God, from biblical reflections, books, projects, ideas to take to campuses, research, forums, as well as all the work from the LCI.
I invite you to pray for the construction of peace from faith, for Mexico and Latin America, so that believers can bear witness to the gospel of peace, restoring, reconciling and weaving hope from interpersonal relationships, which will undoubtedly have an impact on the cultural, political and social dimension in the region.
Find out more:
- Watch a 2-minute video of Sandra discussing her project (video is in Spanish but English subtitles and transcript are provided)
- Follow Sandra’s progress with her project on her personal blog (in Spanish)
- Read about all 18 of our Catalysts’ projects on our project webpages
1Mexico’s “war on drugs”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_drug_war
2Global Peace Index Report (2022), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace: https://www.economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/GPI-2022-web.pdf
3 New King James Version